Rwanda or Uganda? The jury is out as to which of these destinations is best for visiting gorillas in their natural habitat. However, as tourism players openly debate which of these two countries offers the best gorilla experience, there is a third option that is a pretty well-kept secret: the Republic of Congo.
Although the Republic of Congo has gone through some upheaval, the region is now stabilizing and is slowly but surely becoming more popular with visitors.
Travel company Deeper Africa is out to change the status quo, reimagining its Republic of Congo-focused itineraries for 2020 to draw attention to the region and bring visitors to discover some of Africa's most remote locations.
New for 2020 is the Lowland Gorilla Safari nine-day itinerary starting at $11,500 per person, which highlights Odzala-Kokoua National Park, a gem in the heart of the Congo River Basin in the Republic of Congo.
The Congo Basin is the second-largest tropical forest, next to the Amazon and boasts a fascinating variety of landscapes and parks, including the Odzala National Park.
Wil Smith, co-founder and managing partner of Deeper Africa, said Odzala National Park remains one of his favorite travel experiences. "It has it all," he said. "The opportunity to encounter unexplored spaces, kayak jungle streams, explore jungle paths and witness close encounters with elephants, gorillas and all kinds of natural wonders. It's Valhalla."
The park boasts a variety of tropical landscapes, including a closed-canopy rainforest, open tropical savannahs and wetlands, which host a significant number of mammals, primates, birds, amphibians, fish and swallowtail butterflies. Odzala is truly remote and provides an authentic jungle experience with opportunities to see wildlife beyond the Big 5, such as the western lowland gorilla and other species of primates.
The park has three upmarket tourist lodges -- Lango, Mboko and Ngaga camps -- that are directly managed by Odzala Discovery Camps. Each camp contributes much-needed revenue to the park and the local communities.
Ngaga is a gorilla research camp headed up by Magda Beremejo and German Illera, two leading primatologists who have dedicated their lives to primates and the first to habituate western lowland gorillas. Through their pioneering work, Ngaga has become one of Africa's most important gorilla-trekking destinations.
Of the identified groups of western lowland gorillas in the Ndzehi Forest around Ngaga Camp, two are the focus of habituation and research efforts: the Neptuno Group (16 individuals) and the Jupiter Group (25 individuals). These groups are named for the enormous and intimidating silverback males that lead and protect them.
Ngaga Camp is the ideal place from where to explore the gorillas, according to Deeper Africa. Located in the heart of the rainforest, each of the treehouse rooms offers views into the surrounding canopy. The dining room, lounge and bar area are all on raised decks overlooking the forest. A star deck and fire pit are placed on a dropped deck below the main area for after-dinner relaxation, and a separate deck is located at a natural cooling-off spot on the Ngaga Stream below camp.
Odzala Discovery Camps can be reached by air from the capital city of Brazzaville. All international visitors to Odzala-Kokoua National Park are required first to visit Brazzaville to complete immigration and customs formalities. While sorting out the legalities for a visit to the gorillas, Brazzaville offers quite a few attractions for travelers.
Brazzaville's main attractions are conveniently located fairly close together. This makes it possible to visit a national attraction, like the Pierre de Brazzaville monument, one of the city's beautiful cathedrals, and go shopping in a vibrant market all on an afternoon city tour.
This undiscovered country offers a glimpse of an incredibly unique part of Africa that very few visitors have seen. The people are invariably friendly and welcoming, the nature is pristine and the wildlife viewing is spectacular.